Earth-Shaking Chocolate Almond Cupcakes

tray of almond chocolate cupcakesLife has been a bit of a whirlwind the last few days.

I had surprise minor surgery on my foot, so we picked up some new video games and settled in for a quiet weekend, but it was not to be.  We walked in the door to our house and realized that thanks to good shocks on my car, we had missed what most people in town were already panicking about- a 7.7 earthquake just over the Canadian border off Haida Gwaii.

Now, when you live across the street from the ocean with a straight line view of the epicenter of the largest earthquake to hit the Northwest US in 60 years- there’s one thing on your mind. Of course, it was the same thing on the mind of everyone else- from NOAA who immediately issued Tsunami warnings spanning the entire west coast of the US to the village on the next island over, which ordered a mandatory evacuation. Rumors have it they even got helicopters to help the elderly flee more efficiently. The kindly voice on the radio insisted that we remain calm and that city emergency response was not calling any evacuations at this time, but it was easy for them to say- the entire city except one two mile stretch of highway is sheltered by surrounding islands. Guess where we live?

So we packed our bags and our precious items, put the gecko in her travel carrier, and waited. And waited. And waited. Through four hours of “we’ll know more soon”, pacing the floor, picking over the maps, facebook rumors of road closures and evacuations, and distracted video game playing, we simply waited.

In the thick of this, I had some chocolate in a saucepan that I had melted down the night before for dipping cookies into and then left to use later. I melted it back down and, looking for a distraction, started dipping anything I thought might taste good, including a few dozen almonds. Lee had a death in the family and a gathering was scheduled for the next day, should we not be wiped off the map, so I started planning my contribution. I always bring something to these get-togethers and it’s always sweet because that’s what people expect from me.

chocolate almond cupcake

Around midnight, the tsunami warning was cancelled after the waves started showing up and were only about 6″ (according to Lee, indistinguishable from an overweight kayaker paddling by) and the focus shifted to Hawaii, where the tsunami might actually do some damage, having built in size as it traveled across the Pacific. We got some much needed rest, and the next morning I used the chocolate covered almonds as inspiration for these quite photogenic chocolate almond cupcakes which to me will always be tied to our fraught brush with plate tectonics.


Earth-Shaking Chocolate Almond Cupcakes

(Adapted from Elizabeth Barbone’s “Classic Chocolate Cake”)

  • 1 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/2 cup corn/potato/tapioca starch
  • 1/4 cup sweet rice flour
  • 1 cup dutch process cocoa
  • 1 1/2 tsp each baking powder and soda
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract (for extra almondyness, replace this with almond extract)


  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tsp almond extract

Whisk together all dry ingredients for cake and then add eggs, milk, oil and extract. This is a super easy cake- you could even put all the dry ingredients in a jar or bag and it would be like a box mix (but better, of course)!

Fill the cups of a lined or very well greased cupcake tin to half full each (these rise quite a bit) and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. When they are done, they will be tacky on the surface and the centers will be a bit sunk in- I like this little crater for a filling or as room for extra frosting!

Once the cupcakes have cooled, prepare the frosting. Whip the butter on high speed until fluffy then add the powdered sugar, a bit at a time while mixing on a low speed. Add too much at a time or mix it too quickly and the sugar will come flying out at you, so be patient. Once all the sugar is incorporated, add the almond extract and milk and whip a bit more to get it nice and fluffy.

Frost the cupcakes and garnish as you like- if you really want Earthquake Cupcakes, try filling the little craters with chocolate sauce before frosting for a delicious tsunami all your own.


Magical Mint Brownie Cookies

Like all good ideas, this one wasn’t mine.

(Seriously, I can’t take any credit for it at all.)

Once a month the finest, or at least rowdiest, minds in my town get together for a night of coffee drinking, binge eating, and music listening. We call it The Monthly Grind, and it’s a spectacular of local musicians and homemade desserts- so it’s right up my alley. Bring a dessert  for the contest and get in free (note: not actually a good deal since tickets are $5). Typically, it’s not themed but last spring, we had a 60’s music themed Grind complete with hippie costumes and a Sing-Like-Bob-Dylan contest.

“Why don’t you make brownies,” Lee scoffed. “But like, with mint leaves so it looks like pot.”

And thus the Magical Mint Brownie Cookies were born. When they announced the winners, they called me up to the stage to accept my first place prize and caught off guard I muttered something I hope nobody heard about brown rice being awesome, but in hindsight I should of said, “yeah, it wasn’t my idea.”

That’s not going to stop me from taking credit for it from here on out.

Without further ado-


Sarah’s Magical Mint Brownies which were totally invented by Sarah

(© Sarah, 2012)

-1/2 cup brown rice flour

-1/4 cup cornstarch*

-1/4 tsp xanthan gum

-1/4 tsp baking powder

-8 0z semisweet chocolate chips

-1/2 cup brown sugar

-1/4 cup salted butter

-2 eggs

-2 tsp vanilla

-1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves

-2/3 cup milk chocolate chips

Whisk together flours, xanthan gum, and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside. Melt semisweet chocolate chips in a small saucepan while you cream butter and brown sugar together. Add the melted chocolate, eggs, and vanilla to the creamed butter mixture and mix thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients 1/4 cup at a time, mixing in between, then add the mint leaves and the milk chocolate chips and stir by hand. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet and bake 12-14 minutes at 350F. Cool at least 5 minutes before gobbling up like a chocolate crazed lunatic.

*The original recipe calls for cornstarch, but starches are pretty much interchangeable. Use tapioca or potato starch instead if that’s what you have. They all taste the same.

(Brownie Cookies adapted from “Double Chocolate Chip Cookies”, from Elizabeth Barbone’s Easy Gluten-Free Baking- I told you it wasn’t my idea at all)

Steak Marinade (1st Post!)

The obligatory first post: bask in the undying light of its obvious glory.

I’ve tried to blog before, but I always seem to run out of things to say by the second post, which is silly because I never run out of things to say in real life. Ever. If I’m not sure what to say next, I just change the subject and keep talking. I’ll tell the same story three times in a row if need be, but I will never, ever shut up.

Blogging is an ideal medium for me, no?

On with the show. Just like I don’t like to settle on one particular arrangement of the furniture, I have no desire to pick one topic for this blog.  This one is all leading up to a recipe- after all you can’t share a recipe without a story, right? Bear with me, and scroll down if you really need that steak marinade so desperately. But I am also going to write about other things I think are cool, which may include but not be limited to: interior design, medical trivia, gluten free baking, Alaskan topics, and the severed toes I occasionally find on the countertop at work.

It’s going to be well rounded. Just like the toes.

With that imagery in mind, let’s move on to the meat of this post (har har): a steak marinade recipe. I love this marinade, and I bet you could even use it for pork.  If you have a really tender piece of meat, you could probably get away with just marinating this for a half hour and then grilling but it’s best to let it sit overnight. No steak sauce needed with this marinade, folks.


Sarah’s Famous Steak Marinade


  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 3 tbs low-sodium tamari
  • 1 tbs ketchup
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp worchestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp red wine
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp oregano

Whisk all that together and you’ve got yourself a marinade. Wow, that was easy.

“But Sarah,” you ask, “pardon my French, but what the hell is Tamari?”

I’m glad you asked. Tamari is traditional Japanese soy sauce. You see, the Japanese people are super smart and knew even long ago that wheat is evil and would someday make me sick, so they made their soy sauce without it. Even if you’re not gluten intolerant, you might find that Tamari tastes better- it has a much richer flavor. Just watch out, because some companies do not quite get the whole concept and market their sauce as “Tamari” even though it really has wheat just like normal soy sauce. You’re all checking the ingredient lists of everything you buy already though, right?

Try this sauce next time you’re making steaks. If you like it, let me know down there in the comments, and don’t forget to subscribe so that my scribblings will be delivered straight to your email inbox.

Fisher’s Universal Indicator

Today in my organic chemistry class, after all of the glassware had been cleaned and people started to trickle out, we got to playing with some universal indicator and made this.

It’s not food coloring- the same pigment is used in each of these, Fisher’s Universal Indicator is a combination of pigments which change color depending on the pH of the solution. From left to right, the solutions go from quite acidic to very basic. At a neutral pH as in pure water, Fisher’s Indicator is green.

It was a lot more work than you might expect- the reagent expired in 1993 (thank you, public education!) and many tears were shed- mostly mine. We used varying combinations of HCl, NaOH, distilled water, and our slightly acidic tap water.

The purple is kind of lame. We tried to get a better purple by shoveling solid pure lye* into the mix but no avail. You can only do so much when your reagent has been expired for almost two decades.

chemistry rainbow

*Remember kids, do NOT try this at home.